We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, April 30, 2012


We are always excited by a new opera company on the NYC musical horizon and always eager to see what repertoire they select and what risks they take.  We are most pleased that New York Opera Exchange chose Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte as their first staged performance and that they performed it in an original way.  The arias we know and love were sung in fine Italian while the recitativi were replaced by modern English dialogue written by the director Cameron Marcotte.

Fiordiligi and Dorabella are two young analysts at a Wall St. firm where their boyfriends Ferrando and Guglielmo are young associates.  Don Alfonso is their middle-aged boss.  Despina is an administrative assistant who sufficiently resents her "gofer" position and is most willing to play tricks on the two sorority sisters, especially when bribed by (hold your breath) a pair of tickets to the Met.

Instead of portraits, the two sorority sisters show each other photos on their iPads.  Statuses are changed on Facebook.  The men get together over barbells in the company gym.  Meetings are taken at Starbucks.  The disguises assumed by the men are scruffy beards and "Occupy" signs. What would Mozart have made of all this?  Apparently mating rituals and fickleness have not changed all that much in 200+ years.

Strangely, it all works rather well in the context of a small theater in a church with translations of the arias projected onto a screen on one side of the orchestra and photos projected on the other.  Unfortunately, the reproductions of FB pages were not legible and many of the photos were unclear.  The second screen might have been better used for translations on both sides.

Nicholas Armstrong conducted about two dozen members of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra who generously donated their time and considerable musical skills to bring Mozart's masterpiece to life.  The wildly enthusiastic audience testified to the success of the young singers who are on the cusp of professional careers.  Soprano Rebecca Shorstein made a spunky Fiordiligi and shone in "Come scoglio", negotiating the wild skips of register with panache.  Mezzo Kate Wiswell has a lovely top without sacrificing mezzo quality; we enjoyed her "Smanie implacabili".  Natasha Nelson was a winsome Despina.

Tenor Jeffrey Taveras did a fine job with "Un aura amorosa" and baritone Joseph Beckwith was a convincing Guglielmo. Jason Cox brought everything together as Don Alfonso. 

We wish all the best to this fledgling company launched by Artistic Director Justin Werner and General Manager Francesca Reindel with the mission of creating performance opportunities for emerging artists to sing with orchestra.  We are looking forward to what the next season brings.

(c) meche kroop


Let us raise our glasses to the ambitious folks at Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater who have given us a dazzling production of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles.  Having missed the production at the Met in 1991 we were most eager to see what a contemporary librettist (William M. Hoffman) could do with the Beaumarchais characters so beloved in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart's Nozze di Figaro.  To our knowledge, no one had previously created an opera from the final play of the Beaumarchais trilogy entitled La Mère Coupable.

In the play, Count Almaviva and the Countess are living in Paris.  The Countess, twenty years earlier, had an affair with Cherubino and has a son named Léon whom the Count has never accepted.  Never mind that he himself had an affair with a noblewoman and has a daughter named Florestine!  The goose is sauced while the gander goes free, unwilling to forgive his wife.  Naturally these two young people fall in love and wish to marry, which the Count opposes.

This plot is used by Hoffman in a most unusual way.  He layers the story with an invention--Beaumarchais is enamored of Marie-Antoinette, here called Antonia and wants to rewrite history and save her from the guillotine.  When Figaro rebels against what is written for him, Beaumarchais must enter the opera within the opera and thereby loses his creative powers.

MSM has spared no expense or effort in mounting a production that works on every level.  In the opening scene the ghosts of the aristocracy are asleep and look very much like statues of alabaster but they soon come to life and sing.  The stage is often filled with the ghosts, including Antonia herself, observing Beaumarchais' play, and later figures of the revolution bent on convicting and beheading the aristocracy.

Astute direction by renowned director Jay Lesenger makes this confusing tale work seamlessly.  Steven Osgood on the podium elicited some fine playing of Mr. Corigliano's unusual music which is, stylistically, all over the map.  Sufficient credit must be given to set designer Steven Capone and costume designer Daniel James Cole , to hair and makeup coordinator Amy Jean Wright as well as to choreographer Francis Patrelle.

Master's degree candidates performed their roles with uniform excellence.  We especially enjoyed the Figaro of baritone Nickoli Strummer who had a great aria in Act I, soprano Cree Carrico's equally great aria as Antonia, tenor Aaron Short's performance as the hypocritical villain Bégearss, baritone Gideon Dabi as Beaumarchais, tenor Brett Sprague as Almaviva, soprano Rebecca Krynski as the Countess and Kaitlyn Costello-Fain as Susanna. 

Some special moments stood out: simultaneous duets between Antonia and Beaumarchais alongside the Countess and (long dead) Cherubino, the latter sung by countertenor Anthony Bucci; an amusing duel (choreographed by Rod Kinter) between ghosts who realize they can't die; and an hilarious scene at the Turkish embassy with a Pasha and a dancing girl named Samira, sung by Rachelle Pike whose rich mezzo was well used in a faux folk song that had us in stitches.  Florestine was sung by Nicole Haslett and Léon by Mingjie Lei.  They did make a handsome couple.

The amount of care invested in this production was evident and the result can be considered an unqualified success.  The Met could not have done it better.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 29, 2012


A cheerful disposition requires being grateful for what one experiences and not mourning for what is missed.  Let it be said also that, at times, a taste of something is so wonderful that one is completely satisfied.  Such was the case Friday when I was fortunate enough to hear half of the final  Lindemann recital of the season.

Looking every inch the diva but sounding like the artist she is, glamorous soprano Lei Xu inhabited each chanson of Berlioz' Les Nuits d'Ete with such dramatic intensity that it seemed to be an operatic aria.  In "Le spectre de la rose", one could virtually inhale the aroma.  Several of the songs relate to loss and one could feel the heart deeply touched.  Ms. Xu's voice has a beautiful bloom on top.  Her piano partner Bryan Wagorn seemed to breathe with her and supported totally without ever overwhelming.

Baritone Luthando Qave sang three Schubert lieder accompanied by Alexandra Naumenko.  The fast tempo taken in "Die Forelle" made the song seem less serious.  The audience favorite was "Erlkönig" in which Mr. Qave's dramatic skills were given free rein.  Never have we heard such an evil seductive Erlkonig!  The voice of The Father sounded appropriately reassuring with some underlying anxiety.  However, one might have wished for a lighter more frightened sounding child.  Ms. Naumenko has a firm hand on the piano and there were moments when a lighter touch would have added some variety.

Her firm hand stood her in good stead as tenor Mario Chang sang Verdi's "L'esule" with a gorgeous Italianate sound.  This is a sizable voice, one that is quite suited to the Verdi repertoire and we were sorry to miss his Tosti songs and the Spanish songs with which he ended the program.

But we were committed to hearing pianist Soheil Nasseri perform his traditional program at Bargemusic in Brooklyn.  What a pleasure to hear our favorite composers played with verve and style.  We were most taken by Schubert's Sonata in A minor, D.845, Op.42; given our love for lieder, this is quite understandable since Schubert's melodies are always so engaging.  And especially since Mr. Nasser's piano "sings" so beautifully with lyrical phrasing and variety of color. 

Mr. Nasseri continued with Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet: Ten Pieces for Piano, Op.75, a piano reduction written some time after the orchestral version.  It seemed amazing how many subtleties of instrumentation the piano was able to reproduce.  Scenes from the ballet kept drifting in front of our eyes.

The program ended with Beethoven's Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major.  We were particularly enchanted by the lyrical Menuetto and the playful Presto con fuoco.

It seemed bizarre to be thinking about Montsalvatge's "Cuba dentro de un piano" until I realized I was hearing an entire universe in Mr. Nasseri's piano.  This ambitious artist has promised to perform all of Beethoven's works involving piano by 2020, the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.  Although Mr. Nasseri performs all over the world we hope to be present for more of them.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 27, 2012


Mozart wrote Don Giovanni for a Prague premiere in 1787; when he brought the production to Vienna he had a new cast to consider and made some changes.  Perhaps he wanted to please these house favorites or exploit their gifts.  He added a comic scene in Act II for Zerlina and Leporello who is tied to a chair; he expanded Donna Elvira’s grand scena; he wrote “Dalla sua pace” to replace “Il Mio Tesoro”.  According to Stephen Wadsworth who directed the fine Don Giovanni just seen at Juilliard, there is even evidence that the epilogue, in which the morality of the piece is reiterated and the characters announce their future intentions, was occasionally omitted.  Truth be told, we were surprised and delighted by the addition of the Zerlina-Leporello scene (which we had never seen before), largely due to the sprightly talent of the adorable soprano Ying Fang and the comic gifts of baritone Alexander Hajek.  But we sorely missed “Il Mio Tesoro” (being greedy, we want both tenor arias) and felt that the ending, while very well-staged, seemed abrupt.  We do understand that this a a long opera and that no edition is considered set in concrete.

The cast, mostly students in the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies at Juilliard, sang and acted with great distinction, as is generally the case.  Baritone Jeongcheol Cha made a splendid Don and created an anti-hero of some complexity.  As a matter of fact, all the characters were more complex than is usually seen, which must be attributed to the fine direction.  Leporello was not just comic foil to the Don but seethed with the Rage of the Abused just under the surface.  Donna Elvira, as portrayed by the lovely soprano Devon Guthrie, was not just a whiny victim but seemed a fierce champion of her gender and even took up sword at one point!  The soprano Karen Vuong used her brilliant soprano to great advantage as Donna Anna and, as her fiancé Don Ottavio, sweet-voiced tenor Yujoong Kim managed to avoid the cliché of wimpiness.  Soprano Ying Fang created a wily yet tender Zerlina who grows in dimension as the story unfolds.  Her sposo Masetto, as performed by baritone Takaoki Onishi also avoided the clichés to which we are generally exposed and made us care about his character.

On loan from the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, bass Ryan Speedo Green impressed us mightily as The Comendatore.  He sang and acted with great authority.  In the graveyard he is seated but when he enters Don Giovanni’s dining hall he grabs Don G and pulls him off to hell.  Again, let it be noted that the cliché of falling through a trapdoor with flames emerging was wisely avoided.  Mr. Wadsworth’s direction illustrated how one can take an old war horse and make it fresh, without resorting to elaborate sets and without imposing ridiculous concepts.

The simple but effective sets were designed by Charlie Corcoran; the costumes, designed by Camille Assaf were lovely and true to the time and place.  Choreography by Jeanne Slater added much to the party scene.

Gary Thor Wedow led the youthful orchestra without a baton and used his hands to shape the music.  At no time did the intensity and forward movement flag.  Elllliot Figg played the harpsichord with a lovely delicate touch.  It was another fine evening thanks to the amazing folks at Juilliard.

© meche kroop

Monday, April 23, 2012


Having criticized the direction of Macbeth at the Met, I am happy to report that the very fine Aquila Theatre is presenting a coherent production of this Shakespeare tragedy at the Judson Memorial Church.  Director Desiree Sanchez, who also did the production design, has given us a traditional and unfussy performance that allowed the words and phrasing of the actors to register as operatic.  There was no scenery to speak of but the imaginative lighting by Artistic Director Peter Meineck succeeded in creating space and time.  

This affecting production stood head and shoulders above a modern dress hip-hop version of Julius Caesar seen earlier this week in which the multi-media affectations distracted from the telling of the tale and left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied.  Don’t miss this fulfilling evening of the bard’s best; you’ll be sorry if you do.

Who can say why such talent is blooming barely seen in a church basement while the Met is hiring incompetent superstars who give us productions that can’t seem to tell an honest tale!

© meche kroop

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Whether you perceive Elliot Madore as barihunk or baribard depends upon whether you were using your eyes or your ears.  Mr. Madore sings as if he wrote the poetry and the music himself and that is one rare gift.  In his recital last night for the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program he demonstrated skills as a recitalist that equal his skills onstage at the Met where we recently thrilled to his performance of the role of Lysander in Enchanted Island.  Wisely, he scaled down his strikingly rich voice to suit the size of the room and similarly modulated his dramatic intensity to just the right degree.

Accompanied by Natalia Katyukova, he opened the program with a song by Glinka entitled “I remember that magical moment” which allowed him to express a wide range of emotions.  Two songs by Tchaikovsky followed--”At the ball” and “Don Juan’s Serenade”.  It was during the latter that Ms. Katyukova’s piano skills were most evident.

Switching from Russian to the deceptively light hearted Banalités of Poulenc, we enjoyed the humor of “Chanson d’Orkenise”, the languor of “Hôtel”, the wistfulness of “Voyage à Paris” and the exquisite diminuendo at the end of “Sanglots

But it was Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen that broke our heart as Mr. Madore seemed to be authoring on the spot the compelling emotional journey of a young man disappointed in love.  Using impressive dynamic control and word coloring, he made the trip from grief to irony and false joy to fury and finally acceptance.  One could scarcely hold back the tears and deal with the lump in the throat.  Comprising only four songs, this cycle, Mahler’s first, covers similar material to Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise only far more succinctly.

The program closed with some songs by Ives, one of which is a setting of Heine’s poem “Ich grolle nicht” which, while beautifully sung, could never match the setting by Schumann in his Dichterliebe.  As encore, Mr. Madore sang “My Boy Bill” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.  He sang it with the same dramatic intensity and connection with the text that was shown in the rest of the program.

As Mr. Madore finishes his second year with the Lindemann program and pursues his operatic destiny we wish him all the best.  With talent like that, luck is unnecessary.  We hope to see him at the Met singing Don Giovanni, perhaps his signature role?

© meche kroop

Friday, April 20, 2012


Every time I attend a function at Juilliard I come to a new and greater appreciation of its value to the NYC musical scene.  Last night I heard a recital of first year students from the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts.  Students were coached by Matthew Odell and David Moody who accompanied on piano and harpsichord.  To their credit, each student connected well with their material and manifested clear diction.  Although some voices seemed more performance-ready than others, each one was a pleasure to hear.  Judging by the highly enthusiastic and occasionally misplaced applause, one could surmise that the audience comprised lots of family members and friends.  They had much of which to be proud.

Starting with the sopranos, Nicolette Mavroleon sang Purcell’s “Sweeter than Roses” and Liszt’s “Pace non trovo”.  There was a nice contrast between gentleness in the former and agitation in the latter.  Angela Vallone sang “Ah! Spietato” from Handel’s Amadid di Gaula and brought the evening to a rousing close with a charmingly acted piece by Victor Herbert entitled “Art is Calling for Me”, better known as “I want to be a prima donna”.  Eva Gheorghiu lamented heartbreakingly in “Piangero” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto; later she performed “Monica’s Waltz” from Menotti’s The Medium, demonstrating clearly when Monica was singing what she wanted to hear from Toby and when she was singing her own thoughts.

As for the mezzos, Hannah McDermott sang “Tristezza Crepuscolare” from Santoliquido’s I Canti della Sera and performed Purcell’s “Mad Bess of Bedlam” with disheveled hair and bare feet, which added to the effect.  Kenita Hopper sang Scarlatti’s “Gia il Sole dal Gange” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”.  Mary-Elizabeth O’Neill sang Purcell’s “If Music be the Food of Love” and performed Donizetti’s “Il segreto per esser felice” from Lucrezia Borgia with champagne flute in hand.

A trio of tenors included Aaron Mor singing Legrenzi’s “Che Fiero Costume” and Beach’s “I send My Heart Up to Thee”; David Smolokoff singing Handel’s “Tuo drudo e mio rivale” from Rodelinda and Charles’ “And So Goodbye”; and Alexander McKissick singing “Del mio sol vezzosi rai” from Handel’s Ariodante and Korngold’s “Sweet Melody of Night”.

Baritones were noticeably absent!  “They really won’t be missed”.

It will be a special pleasure to watch these young people as they acquire additional poise onstage and supplement their talent with vocal refinements.  We wish them all good luck!

© meche kroop

Monday, April 16, 2012


When the curtain rises on Gotham Chamber Opera’s  Il Sogno di Scipione we see three bodies in bed together.  Since Mozart wrote this work (opera seria?  cantata?) as a probably randy adolescent, one could readily conclude that he would have loved it.  The libretto by Metastasio comprises an allegory in which two goddesses vie for the attentions of Scipione, a Roman general--dry stuff indeed for our epoch until brought to sexy life by director  Christopher Alden.  Fortuna (Susannah Biller) and Constanza (Marie-Eve Munger) are two very sexy ladies. The blond (natch) Fortuna is tempestuous and vain; we know this because she is obsessed with her hair, makeup and glamorous outfits, designed by Fabio Toblini.  Constanza, the brunette, is also beautiful but she is loyal and spiritual; we know this because she rises from bed and performs a succession of yoga poses.  We can guess who wins; it is the Enlightenment after all.

The two coloratura sopranos chosen for the roles are both goddesses of the dacapo aria, not only beautiful to look at but exciting to hear.  The fioritura was rendered perfectly; these ladies are fearless and tackled Mozart’s high-lying tessitura with open throats and brilliant sound.  Tenor Michele Angelini was also a knockout as the eponymous hero; he has a lovely sound and an effortless way with phrasing.  He “wakes up” in paradise and in bed with two goddesses, completely bewildered since he fell asleep alone in a palace in Africa.  He reacts like Everyman; he lights up a cigarette.  (The awkward moment of watching someone presumably a non-smoker try to smoke onstage was matched only by Fortuna trying to walk in stilettos!)

Scipione’s dream includes not just the two goddesses but also some meetings with his deceased forebears.  Publio was magnificently sung by tenor Arthur Espiritu hobbling around on one leg and two crutches, having been injured in a prior African campaign.  His diction was remarkable and not a word was slighted.  Scipione’s father, excellently sung by tenor Chad A. Johnson arrived via wheelchair pushed by a nurse, suffering from spasticity and seizures--neither of which impaired his lovely singing.  However, one wondered about these directorial decisions since physical impairments are supposed to be left behind when one enters paradise!

Leaving aside a few over-the-top choices, most of the direction leavened the material considerably and the stage business mostly suited the characters and the text.  I would have preferred to see Costanza less interested in the cosmetics that so occupied Fortune, the better to have limned her character.

The epilogue was finely sung by soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen.  It adds nothing to the tale but somehow the dog must be wagged.  In Mozart’s day it was written to flatter a patron and in our day was used to flatter the patrons of Gotham Chamber Opera.  On the plus side, it gave the audience an opportunity to hear more of Mozart’s glorious music and Ms. Willis-Sorensen’s superb singing.

The simple set by Andrew Cavanaugh Holland comprised a mattress on the floor, some tangled sheets, a lamp and a mysterious wardrobe from which Fortuna drew a plethora of far out costumes seemingly designed for some provocative role-playing.  Additionally, the two forebears made their entrances and exits in similar fashion.  The chorus entered through the windows.  Lighting by Allen Hahn added to the excellence but a chance was missed to reflect the dark storm with appropriate effects. Happily, Neil Goren, Artistic Director of Gotham Chamber Orchestra, conducted his fine orchestra; the harpsichord was played by Keun-A Lee and Sibylle Johner played the cello continuo.

Gotham Chamber Opera is filling an instrumental  place in the New York City musical scene and has a most excellent home at the John Jay College where the intimate size of the auditorium gets us as close to Mozart as we will ever be.  Congratulations all around!
© meche kroop